So. I found this. Even though it’s a few months old, some of the aftermath is still floating around on the Guardian’s website here and here. I don’t know Julie Bindel from Eve, so I’ll accept the word of others that she’s a stand up feminist. Also, I intended originally to put this as a comment on my previous post—it really started out as more of the same, and some of Julie’s writing is an antagonistic precursor to that posting of mine. I tried to show that my gender identity wasn’t only something a doctor diagnosed me with. Unlike Bindel’s portrait, transition isn’t something I undertook to escape legal discrimination, not some brutal avenue into which I was forced.

My decisions have always been my own: I called up the therapist, I decided when I was ready to start hormones, I’m deciding that surgery is something that I’m really starting to look at in a much more serious way. In fact, I’m writing my recommendation letter for my gender therapist to review and edit. It’s an interesting exercise. The point is, my identity has led me here, not some diagnostic manual with a dichotomous key. The journey feels like it’s been very roundabout, or at least not very direct, but those constant course corrections make me confident that this is exactly the right place. Not over there, or there, but here.

Ultimately, this is going to end up being a post of its own. There’s just too much going on that doesn’t fit with that previous topic. Through the course of her referenced article, it’s as though what I see of Bindel’s writing is entirely overrated. From strawman arguments to her comments about gaming the NHS for our own happiness, Bindel demonstrates what can only be described as either ignorance or a deliberate level of obtuseness when it comes to understanding transsexuals.

For starters, I don’t think I would classify GRS as a way of manipulating the system for my happiness—a lot of us view surgery as a medically necessary procedure to alleviate a very targeted depression. And yes, my penis has made me want to kill myself in the past. The thought of having to wait has made me want to kill myself. Now, I may be using an overly broad definition of health here, but I’m quite certain that wanting to kill myself is not a very healthful attitude. Bindel can complain about subsidizing that treatment with her tax dollars, and that’s certainly her right, but I think there are probably bigger and more expensive draws on the NHS than gender reassignment surgeries.

The Guardian review that Bindel cites with respect to the efficacy of surgical intervention is a problematic reference by her own admission—half the participants of the reviewed studies have disappeared. That’s hardly a refutation for the efficacy of surgery, but it’s also no wonder that she couldn’t shore up her position with anything more authoritative than an inconclusive review—all the papers I’ve read myself or heard about second hand directly contradict the point that Bindel is trying to make. Regarding the inconclusive review, it’s common for post-op trans women to just blend into society, no longer needing to out themselves once their bodies, presentations and legal documents are all congruent. Who can blame women for not standing up so that that they be included in the group of Bindel’s targets? The women she stereotypes with fuck-me shoes and bird nest hair are the trans women she clocks, not the ones around her who probably pass right under her radar. Given the option, I wouldn’t out myself to her, not based on the welcome I would expect to receive.

Bindel further reveals her own bias over surgical efficacy by talking only about the people for whom surgery wasn’t the right choice but never examines the counter-position or even admits that it might exist. I can go find people who think evolution is a crock, too, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The fact is that surgery does work for a lot of trans women, and pretending that one exception invalidates the rule is just disingenuous. I understand that she was making an argument and that the crux of her article was to state that surgery is just so much unnecessary mutilation, but it seems to me that she came up with her conclusion first and then found all the supporting evidence afterward, which feels a little too much like Creationism or Intelligent Design or just a plain old case of (Social) Science Done Backwards.

Continuing in the vein of disingenuousness, Bindel goes on to conflate terms such as transsexual and transgender—things of which she ought to know better if she’s even half the gender expert that she’s touted to be. An effeminate boy who dances ballet could very easily fall under the umbrella term transgender, just as a masculine girl who likes football might, too. Those children ought to have the freedom to participate in the activities they like most, not feel denigrated for wanting to do something that others might consider atypical, and I don’t think a lot of people would disagree with that sentiment. The reason I say Bindel is disingenuous in her treatment of this subject, that she’s writing in bad faith, is that no one would advocate forced gender reassignment for those children without additional indications. A girl who likes football is hardly a case where one ought to automatically be labeled as a transsexual.

My point is that surgery isn’t a solution that gets thrown around, no matter how many people got referred to the Gender Identity Clinic in the UK. Gender variance is definitely more acceptable (than it used to be, anyway) in society, and it doesn’t surprise me that more people might seek help or guidance to work through something that’s potentially very confusing and difficult. What Bindel doesn’t offer though, is a statistic relating to how many actual gender reassignment surgeries are performed each year. What we have is the number of people that receive treatment, but the word treatment isn’t defined for us anywhere. Is that the actual number of surgeries being performed? It’s implied to be, and assuming it, has the relative proportion of patients to surgeries gone up, down, or stayed the same? According to Bindel, 75% of people receive treatment under the NHS. More people may be receiving referrals, but if the proportion of those people being ultimately referred for surgery is consistent, that’s hardly an overdiagnosis of GID. What we also don’t see is a breakdown of new patients by age group. Are the majority of new patients young or is there a temporary upwards flux of thirty-somethings that have had enough of pretending to be cis when they’re really trans? Claiming that a diagnosis is so much bullshit requires a little more work with the statistics than Bindel provides. In that case, she’d have been better off leaving the stats out of her argument entirely, or using only the ones that actually support her position, but I’m doubtful that the stats could be massaged to do that anyway.

The reason I say that is that I know stats and I know trans people. Statistics fail to account for all kinds of mitigating factors, the bias inherent to an analysis easily leading to incorrect conclusions. For trans people, surgery is our option of last resort. We pray to be changed, we pray to be healed. We go through therapy and some of us endure decades of denial, desperate for what Jenny Boylan calls the mystery to a solution: we’re always trying to find a way to be happy in this life that feels so wrong.

It’s that point, the actual efficacy of GRS that Bindel completely fails to understand or deliberately ignores. It is *the* solution for trans people, and unless Bindel has a better alternative, something that *actually* works, I think it’s time for her to STFU on subjects she doesn’t know enough about. She might be an expert on gender and feminism, but that doesn’t make her an expert on GID; acting as though she is bears an analogous similarity to pretending that I can run the Federal Reserve just because I balanced my checkbook last month.

The one thing I might agree with Bindel on is her assessment that if men and women were really equal then there would be no such thing as GID. I don’t know if we would agree about the reasons why that would be so, but here are mine: if men and women were treated as equal, then expressions of femininity in men wouldn’t be regarded as less than, wouldn’t be stigmatized, and wouldn’t carry the repercussions that are all too common—humiliation, denigration, or violence. I’m talking about a range of feminine expression, ranging from clothes to mannerisms. If I were able to associate with women, to be accepted as one of the group without having to undergo expensive and painful medical treatments, maybe I would, and maybe that would be sufficient.

But it’s more than a little difficult for me to imagine that fantasy world. I think that’s all well and good, but what about my beard, my genitalia, my body form in general? What about the dysphoria? What about the tears? I think that in an ideal world maybe those things wouldn’t have mattered as much, but it’s impossible to say that, and I’m skeptical of a solution that claims to be able to hand-wave away all of those difficulties that don’t feel related to a societal construct. Besides, that brave new world doesn’t exist, and unless (or until) it does, we must make do with the solutions we have, however imperfect they (and our understanding of the problems) may be.

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